When you set out to build your site content, keyword research and educated guesses about keyword relevance are often necessary initial steps.
But nothing trumps actual data on how users engage with your site.
When your site has been live for a significant amount of time your analytics offer a wealth of useful information. For an SEO campaign (or any other marketing campaign, for that matter), the best adjustments you can make will be those based on user data.
Like anything else, there’s a wrong and a right way to look at this data.
Here are five “right” ways to view your traffic in the aim of evaluating and improving your SEO.
1) Remember: drops in traffic aren’t inherently negative
Nobody wants to see their search traffic going down. It makes us cringe. But it’s not always a bad thing.
Google rolls out algorithm updates pretty frequently. If you’re tracking your rankings even casually you know this.
If your traffic drops, you’re unlikely to be pleased. But reserve your judgment until you’ve really looked at the data.
What if they’re just getting it better? What if the latest change had the effect of giving you less traffic but more relevant traffic?
In other words: take a look at your bounce rates, pages per visit, time on site, etc. before you decide you’ve lost (or gained) important ground. You may be surprised.
2) Pair up your metrics
We often have a pretty simple and straightforward way of looking at a given metric. Example: “a high bounce rate is bad.”
But a single metric by itself rarely tell us everything we need to know (see #1 above). A higher bounce rate can actually reflect a positive change.
If your aim is to bring in users who are more likely to be engaged by your content, then an increasing bounce rate combined with an increasing number of pages viewed per visit may be positive. The traffic source (read: keyword) users arrive through plays an important role here.
Carlos del Rio and Jeff Noethen have a great book, User Driven Change, that covers, among other things, different ways pairing metrics can help you get a much more accurate sense of how users are engaging your site. The methods are certainly not exclusive to organic traffic, but they apply well. Feel free to use the code miketek at checkout to save $5 on your copy of the book or PDF (first 25 only).
3) Take note of your rankings with a grain of salt
There’s been a lot of talk over the last few months about rankings and the argument that “they’re dead” due to the emergence of localized and personalized search results.
The thing is: they are, and they aren’t.
They’re dying as a gauge of success for a SEO campaign – but not for the millions of people who use search every day.
To get a sense of the fluctuations already being caused by personalized search, get the whitepaper from Reliable SEO (released in Q4 2008) on their personalized search study. Rankings are less chaotic than you might think. It’s likely, though, that Google will emphasis personalization more in the future.
Rankings are, to be sure, becoming harder to measure effectively – and it may become nearly impossible in the future. For now they’re still worth checking (ideally across multiple data sources), but ranking reports are essentially useless on their own. Again, you’ve got to tie this and any other measurement to your goals – and combining them with other metrics is key.
4) Identify the most valuable keywords for individual pages
Take a look at the entrance keywords for your individual pages (start with the higher-level and more central pages). Sort these by metrics that match up with your goals. Check your rankings with a tool like SEOBook.com’s Rank Checker. If you’re running Google Analytics, this mod posted by Andrй Scholten at Yoast.com is great. Use external keyword tools in combination with your referral data to extrapolate search usage.
Look for keywords that have proven to bring in targeted traffic, get decent search usage levels and for which you’re not quite ranking “above the fold” yet. This data should inform your next round of site revisions.
The bottom line here is that none of your metrics have any real significance outside their relationship to your goals. A trend, positive or negative, almost always requires a closer look before you can pass judgment safely on what it means and what you should do in reaction to it.
The goal of SEO isn’t simply to “build your traffic.” It’s to build your business. The goals of your SEO campaign, then, need to align with how your website fits into your business model. Keeping this in mind whenever evaluating your traffic details can save you a lot of wheel spinning and make your adjustments, and their results, much clearer.
This guest post by Mike Tekula of Unstuck Digital.